Wednesday 11 February 2015

The Unavoidable Horizon of Lesser Evilism

Unfortunately, this piece from Phil Hartup has been a common refrain among left wingers for as long as I remember. We have to keep Labour in because the Tories are worse. While obviously true, it would be nice to make a a good left case on the basis of the entirety of Labour's programme rather than just highlighting those bits palatable for leftist consumption. Yet we don't live in nice world. We live in the real world, and that's one whose politics have been blighted by the weakening of Britain's labour movement and therefore a scaling back of socialist ideas and class consciousness. A world in which anxiety and insecurity preys on the minds of too many of our people, so that some lash out at scapegoats and find the rhetoric of stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off populists seductive. And a world in which culture is highly individuated and individualised, where one is the axis upon which the rest of the universe revolves. I don't like it, but when politics is perceived through these three filters it helps explain why time and again Labour goes to the country with a less-than-captivating manifesto.

Nevertheless, lesser evilism is a fact of everyday life and politics are no different. It may make you uncomfortable, but if you're not voting Labour because it capitulates to the scroungers narrative on social security, hasn't pledged to renationalise x, y, z enterprises, and is determined to replace Trident, because the outcome of this election will result in either a Tory or Labour-led government, that also means you're indifferent to those bits of its programme that are beneficial to working people, welfare recipients, and the labour movement as a whole. Hate the bedroom tax and protested against it? Fine. Explain to people victimised by it why the party pledging to keep it is no worse than the one committed to scrapping it. Appalled by the further marketisation of the NHS and have campaigned against it? Tell voters why you feign indifference between a government happy to deepen it and another that wishes to go back to the previous system while building a NHS-style national care service. Worried that EU withdrawal could have a devastating effect on your job and those of your friends and family? Then why pretend the party flirting with that for narrow, sectional reasons and the one that isn't are the same.

I think you get the gist by now. Saying Labour is shit is your prerogative, but that doesn't change the fact that Labour winning or losing will have deep, lasting effects on large numbers of our people. If you're in a position where it doesn't matter one way or the other, then bully for you. You're lucky. Others do not have the luxury of indifference.

There's also another solid lesser evil reason for voting Labour. Nearly every single radical or socialist case against I've seen does so in the name of programmatic purity, itself a symptom both of the cultural trends outlined above and lefty performative piety. It tells you a great deal about the state of left and radical politics in Britain, unfortunately. What's missing is a consideration of tactics and strategy.

Consider this. The renewable energy company Ecotricity announced yesterday that it will be donating £250,000 to Labour. Does the company agree with everything Labour does? I doubt it very much. Yet their reasoning for doing makes perfect sense if you're in the business of, um, green business. As they put it, "This election presents a clear choice between two very different kinds of government with two different visions of Britain. The vision we support is of a green Britain with a strong green economy at the heart of Europe." In other words, from a position of a) wanting to grow the green energy sector, and b) expanding market share, it makes perfect strategic sense to support the party that takes green industries more seriously than the other one.

I think it demonstrates a great deal of naivete and immaturity that too many socialists and radicals do not approach general elections in this way. The labour movement, which most lefties still work in and seek to win over to their politics, very much has an interest in not seeing facilities time further withdrawn, not having the freedom to donate to political campaigns curbed, seeing the reversal of tribunal fees, and preventing turnout threshold for industrial action ballots imposed. Many trade unionists will also benefit from plans to raise the minimum wage, plans to push the living wage, from - yes, again - having the bedroom tax reversed and paternity leave extended. It goes on and on. Under the next Labour government our movement and our class will be in a better position to campaign for the things that matter to us, the overwhelming majority of people. Should the Tories continue things will be a deal harder. Repeat after me, tactics and strategy. Tactics and strategy.

While the rise of the SNP and mounting green insurgency muddies the water a touch - more on both soon - the viability or otherwise of those options is dependent on a Labour core being returned in sufficient numbers to the Commons. The decision remains between austerity and austerity lite, but with relief for the hardest hit and more strategic options for socialist politics. It's not, yet, between cuts and no cuts. What's it to be?


Anonymous said...

Hard to disagree, but here in Scotland it will take more than a nose peg to obliterate the image of a party which at times seemed to scorn its own core voters while expecting them to send complacent lobby fodder who at times sound more like Ulster Unionists than trade unionists.

Vinyl Miner said...

Anonomous, sadly Unionism is a core belief of many Scottish Working Class people and it is bound to be a part of mainstream politics, The SNP and Labour probably have mor Orangement within their ranks than they would like to admit.

kailyard rules said...

So it's to be for "austerity lite"? Half a stale loaf of Labour Wonderbread wrapped in a promissory note is ok for Scotland? The Machiavellian solution proffered is pure MadMen.Package it and try to sell it.

Mark. A. Oxley said...

A quick Google gets articles about holding your nose and voting for Labour as far back as 2005.

That...can't be a good trend.

Phil said...

It's always been the case since I've been involved in politics, Mark. The point is not to hold your noses at election time and let Labour get on with it inbetween, but get stuck in and try your damnedest to steer it onto the road it needs to be on.